Pic: Martin Shakeshaft: www. martinshakeshaft.com
The Communication Workers Union Annual Conference takes place for five days each year normally either in April or May. Two of the five days are spent discussing issues relevant to the whole Union. The remaining three days are dedicated to sectional and industrial grouping. This year Conference delegates have gathered in Bournemouth; the conference started on 27th April.
Each day the Conference ends with a fringe meeting that addresses questions important to the members and also issues that concern a wider set of political or industrial matters. This year the first fringe meeting that opened the debate at the Conference was centred around policing and attacks on workers each time they stand up to protect their jobs, working conditions, fight against ideologically driven privatisation of the public sector and cuts to public services. More specifically, the fringe meeting focused on deliberate strategies of oppression and intimidation by the police, and this especially in the context of the Miners’ Strike of 1984/85 and its 30th anniversary this year. CWU members heard from one of the miners as well as the producers of the film ‘Still the Enemy Within’, which the Union helped fund and promote, although the film and its producers are independent from any grouping or political party. CWU’s Deputy General Secretary Tony Kearns spoke of the importance of remembering the miners and their struggle and the lessons that can be learnt from that struggle. He also warned about the deliberate criminalisation of protesters, activists and attacks on workers, which evidently has always been and remains a class struggle. He also welcomed the attendance of Defend the Right to Protest Campaign and reaffirmed the Union’s support for the campaign and its work.
The meeting heard from Defend the Right to Protest’s convenor Jelena Timotijevic. The Union is affiliated to the campaign and has invited the campaign to its fringe meetings each year since the affiliation some three years ago. This year, in keeping with the theme, DtRtP’s contribution to the fringe focused on the issues that have recently exposed the police as institutionally racist and corrupt, as well as pointing to an increasingly apparent politicisation of the policing of protest. Thus, corruption, withholding of evidence, squashing freedom of speech, not holding police officers responsible for injuring of protesters, are unfortunately not new themes and so their increased emergence in the last few years coincides with the privatisation and austerity measures by the coalition government. This also includes an increase in applying anti-trade union laws amongst striking workers. What we currently see on our University campuses are also examples of privatisation and neoliberalisation of our public spaces of intellectual enquiry. Since 2010, we have seen an increase in student protest and opposition to privatisation and at the same time invasion of University spaces by private companies, police and private security guards. Here too we have witnessed disproportionate charges, draconian bail conditions, disciplinaries, excessive arrests and months of waiting for court hearings whilst students’ education is on hold.
The nature of anti-fascist policing also shows examples of mass arrests, restrictive bail conditions, yet very few charges where a handful of cases reach court. Recently, five anti-fascist protesters walked out of court free; the prosecution admitted they had no evidence in order to prosecute. These are five out of 59 originally arrested during a demonstration to stop the BNP from marching on the Cenotaph in June 2013.
We therefore must point out to successes as well as expose the aggressive police behaviour, which must be challenged and those responsible held to account.
The CWU’s own report on the fringe meeting can be found here: http://www.cwu.org/news/archive/miners-strike-30-years-on.html
For more information about the film ‘Still the Enemy Within’ and how to support the project, see here: http://the-enemy-within.org.uk/